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This award-winning blog supplements the articles in Hospital Infection Control & Prevention.

Emerging coronavirus poses threat of hospital outbreaks

If a SARS-like novel coronavirus continues to emerge the result may be hospital outbreaks that threaten patients and health care workers, experts warn.

The first sporadic cases of MERS-CoV (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus) occurred in Jordan in April 2012, but by late May of 2013, 43 cases had been detected in eight countries: Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates. The mortality rate is about 50%, although milder cases may not have been identified.

Half of the known MERS-CoV cases came from a single outbreak at a hospital in an eastern province of Saudi Arabia. Two health care workers were among those who developed MERS-CoV there after contact with infected patients. Ten people died.

“Increasingly, this virus is acting much the way SARS did,” says Eric Toner, MD, senior associate with the Center for Health Security at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “It doesn’t seem to transmit well in the general community, like SARS. It does seem to transmit within hospitals and between close contacts.

“The lessons for hospitals are the lessons from SARS,” he says. “Transmission is related to unrecognized cases and inadequate infection control.”

As of late May, no MERS-CoV cases had been identified in North America. But that could change in a moment, cautions Gabor Lantos, MD, P.Eng, MBA, president of Occupational Health Management Services in Toronto and a consultant to hospitals.

“One has to be very vigilant,” he says. “Just the way [MERS-CoV] went to Paris; it just takes a different plane to come here. Dubai is now an airline hub. Who’s to say the next plane won’t be coming here with an infected person?”

--Michele Marill

For more on this story see the July 2013 issue of Hospital Employee Health